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Sealed with a kiss

ST. LOUIS -- There the Red Sox were, spilled across the Busch Stadium infield, laughing and hugging and screaming and spraying champagne and posing for photos and filling plastic bags with souvenir dirt and attempting to explain to reporters and cameramen what it meant to win the team's first championship in 86 years. And in the midst of this celebration, walked a slight old man wearing a weathered raincoat and a smile he's been waiting six decades to flash.

Fifty-eight years after walking off a St. Louis field and into a nightmare, Johnny Pesky stepped onto another St. Louis field and found himself in a dream.

"Pesky! Pesky! Pesky!'' chanted several hundred Boston fans, a group which hasn't always treated him so kindly. "Pesky! Pesky! Pesky!''

Boston first baseman Kevin Millar pushed his way through the crowd to hug Pesky and whispered "Thank you" into his ear. Big David Ortiz hugged him and handed him the gleaming World Series trophy to hold, an award more precious than if it were made of real gold. "This is for you, baby!'' Ortiz shouted to Pesky. "Enjoy yourself.''

And then Johnny Damon was there, too, and Curt Schilling, and who knows who else until suddenly Pesky was the oldest man to ever find himself in the middle of a mosh pit. Schilling poured a bottle of beer over Pesky's head, cupped his wrinkled face in his two meaty hands and kissed the 85-year-old right on the lips. "I couldn't let the year go by without doing this,'' he said.

"Did you see where he kissed me? Right on the lips,'' Pesky said, laughing. "If I was the poet laureate, I couldn't find the words to describe all this. It's a hell of a feeling, just a hell of a feeling.

"I was going to hide that trophy under my coat and take it away with me. Some of the players told me this was for me, but that's not right. It's for themselves and for the fans ... and for me -- I'm not going to be excluded from this after all these years.''

After all these years. Fifty eight years ago in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series between the Red Sox and the Cardinals, Pesky's relay throw wasn't fast enough to get Enos Slaughter as he raced around the bases to score what proved to be the series-winning run. It wasn't Pesky's fault -- Slaughter had been running on the pitch and the ball was drilled into the gap and center fielder Dom DiMaggio had left the game with an injury -- it's unlikely anyone could have made the relay fast enough. No matter. The Red Sox lost and Pesky was forever blamed.

"It was an awful feeling, just an awful feeling,'' Pesky said. "I'll never forget after that game, Bobby Doerr and Ted Williams were sitting off to the side of the dugout and Dommie and I were a little bit away and I swear I saw Ted cry. His head was down and when he looked up I could see the tears.''

Pesky is the living symbol of the Red Sox history of misery. He was born in 1919, the year the World Series drought began for the Red Sox (remember, they won it the previous year) and the year Boston traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees. He played eight seasons with the Red Sox and has been a coach or special assistant with the club over the decades. His name is such a part of the team that the right field pole is known as the Pesky Pole. The team even tried to get him in the dugout for this World Series.

The 1946 World Series, the 1949 pennant race, the Impossible Dream, the 1975 World Series, Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner ... he remembers it all. How could he not? The fans won't let him. "They let you know when you mess up,'' Pesky said. "But there's nothing wrong with that. That they care that much, I take it as a compliment.''

Well, it was easy to be in a good mood Wednesday night.

"I think it's awesome that Johnny Pesky will get to hold the trophy and ride in the parade,'' general manager Theo Epstein said. "And we won't ever have to talk about him holding the ball again.''

Until Wednesday, Pesky had lived 85 years without ever seeing the Red Sox win the World Series. Now he finally has. The man who saw Ted cry finally saw the Red Sox laugh.

"I've dreamed about this day for a long, long time,'' Pesky said. "The good man upstairs had to let the Red Sox win at one point. I say my prayers every night and I always make a point of saying, 'We need a World Series.' "

More than anyone, Pesky has lived with the blame and the disappointment and the losing of the Red Sox history. But on Wednesday night a big man took the old man's aged face in his hands, put his lips against Pesky's lips and literally kissed it all goodbye.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.